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Is story behind Markham’s controversial cow sculpture a tall tale?
The farmer who raised Charity - a prizewinning dairy cow now immortalized in an eight-metre-high statue in the middle of a subdivision - says the animal never set hoof in Markham.
Aug. 9, 2017

Markham’s most famous show cow, who was recently honoured for her place in the city’s history with a controversial statue erected in the middle of a quiet subdivision, never actually lived in Markham.

It’s unlikely Charity even set hoof in the city, says the farmer who raised her.

“She was never herself in Markham. Never,” said dairy farmer Ken Trevena, 83, standing next to a rock and plaque that mark the final resting spot of the award-winning Holstein on the idyllic Hanover Hill Farm in Port Perry.

“She never went to Romandale Farm (in Markham),” said Trevena, who raised Charity from when she was two years old and eventually buried her in 1988, after she was diagnosed with cancer. “I took care of the cow until she died. She had a good life here,” he said.

The city of Markham remembers Charity’s life a little differently.

Last month, the city put up an eight-metre stainless steel model of Charity on stilts, in the middle of a park on Charity Cres. in the community of Cathedraltown, despite disapproval from the city’s public art committee and protests from residents.

A plaque installed at the site reads: “The city of Markham is pleased to announce the installation of a statue, Brookview Tony Charity, to commemorate an internationally award-winning Holstein cow that was raised on Romandale Farms.” It adds that the display will be completed in September.

Trevena says Markham’s version of the facts is a bit of, well...bull.

“I didn’t realize they said she was raised in Markham...but anyway,” said Trevena, who says he doesn’t want to make a fuss.

“People can say what they want, but anyone else in the Holstein business knows that she never left Hanover Hill Farms except to go to a show,” he said, adding that it’s unlikely the cow would even have stopped in Markham going to or from a show.

Neither Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti nor the city responded to questions.

Ed Shiller, a spokesperson for the developer Helen Roman-Barber, who donated the artwork to the city, said: “The importance of Charity to Cathedraltown and Markham as a whole is not derived from where Charity lived. It derives rather from her contribution to the success of Romandale Farm as Canada’s leading breeder and exhibiter of Holstein cows, and that this success contributed significantly to the growth and prosperity of the city of Markham.”

Trevena said Charity’s connection to Markham was solidified in 1985, when Helen Roman-Barber’s father, Stephen Roman, a wealthy businessman, bought a half interest in Charity for a then record $1.45 million.

Charity was born on a farm in Ohio and came to Canada in 1980. She was purchased by Peter Heffering of Hanover Hill Farm in 1981, and was placed under Trevena’s care.

A year later, she began her record-setting career, which included being named the Supreme Champion of the Holsteins at the World Dairy Expo in 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1987. She was a nine-time all-Canadian or All-American show cow - achieving a record that still stands. Dubbed the “most perfect cow that ever was,” she was said to be the most productive milking cow in the world in the 1980s.

Trevena assumed for that price, Roman would take the cow home. Instead, he asked to keep the cow in Port Perry, Trevena said.

“I got all the records together for him, and asked him, when are you taking the cow?” Trevena said. “Stephen Roman said to me, ‘Are you staying here on this farm? So is that cow.”

Charity continued showing until she was eight years old, said Trevena. When she was 10, Trevena said he noticed her stumbling, and found there was cancer in her spine.

“We trucked her all the way to Guelph to get her checked out by a vet, but they couldn’t do anything for her. I was very sad.”

Trevena said of all the cows he has raised, Charity was “kind of perfect in every way” - and was the only one he buried.

“We buried her, because what she did for us in terms of advertising and making our farm known, we thought, what the heck, she deserves a nice place to be buried,” he said.

The plaque inscription at her grave, chosen by Trevena, perhaps says it best: “Brookview Tony Charity Incredible Perfection. August 6, 1978 - August 10, 1988. The legend that compels our imaginations to carry it on.”

Cathedraltown resident Danny Da Silva, who has been opposed to the placement of the stainless steel statue and the way it was approved by council, says Markham’s approved of the historical facts is offensive to both residents and the cow.

“Heritage does need to be honoured properly,” he said. “Now, it really calls into question what the true heritage of this area really was. It is very upsetting,” he said.

“It makes you wonder why we are going through this. The city is not being honoured, the cow is not being honoured. This is really disturbing.”

Bob Forhan, land-use planning consultant for Helen Roman-Barber, told the Star’s Scott Wheeler that Charity belongs “in her crescent” because “that was where she was farmed.”

Roman-Barber said: “To us, history is important, the most important.”

Local Councillor Alan Ho said some councillors are hoping to reopen the issue at a special council meeting this week. “We have to discuss this,” he said. “And learn from this incident.”

Trevena, who is retiring from farming this year, said he’s happy to see Charity honoured so many years later, but has one suggestion for the city: put it on the ground, and put a fence around it.

“The bottom side of the cow is not its best,” he said.